Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
May 4, 2014
Forgiveness can restore broken relationships
There are few more beautiful stories of reconciliation than the biblical account of Jacob and Esau. These words paint an unforgettable picture of the power of forgiveness: “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:4).
Two brothers, estranged for more than 20 years, fall into each other’s arms. Tears stream down their cheeks as they offer each other forgiveness. The chains of hatred, guilt, fear and resentment are broken. The burden of their separation rolls away. Their hearts pound with joy. The war between them is over. They are reconciled!
The fear belonged to Jacob. Imagine what fear possessed him when he saw coming with his brother Esau 400 armed men! Jacob knew his brother had promised to kill him. He must have thought, “Now Esau is coming to keep his promise! I am a dead man!”
True to his nature Jacob began scrambling to find a way out of his dilemma. Always the schemer Jacob figures Esau will not attack him as long as he is surrounded by women and children. Fear for his life drove him to bow to the ground seven times in the hope that his brother would have mercy on him.
Then, to Jacob’s complete surprise, Esau offers him reconciling love instead of a sword. They embrace, kiss and weep. The pain of the past is forgotten. Yet Jacob still wonders about his own safety for he refers to himself as “your servant” and addresses Esau as “my lord.” Hoping to win Esau’s favor, Jacob offers gifts to his brother.
This beautiful story is similar to two scenes in the New Testament. One is the story of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus in Luke 15. Esau’s running to embrace his brother is strikingly similar to what the forgiving father does when he sees the prodigal coming home: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
The other scene is that in Acts where Ananias casts his fear aside and placing his hands on the blind and helpless Saul, speaks to him as his brother (chapter 9). Jesus helped Ananias to realize that he and Saul were no longer enemies but brothers.
These stories give us a window into the nature of God. From the beginning God has helped men who had become enemies to be reconciled in order to live together as brothers.
Though Jacob may have been a deceitful man he could still recognize grace when he saw it. Esau must have blushed when Jacob said to him, “truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favor.”
There is no reason to suspect that Jacob’s words were flattery. He is obviously sincere, deeply overwhelmed by the forgiving love offered him by his brother. He had expected the swift hand of justice. He received the gracious hand of mercy.
Centuries later forgiveness was a central theme in the teaching of Jesus. He made it clear that to receive God’s forgiveness for our sins we must be willing to forgive others for their sins against us. We cannot live as citizens of the kingdom of God without practicing forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the very heart of the gospel. Jesus died so that through the shedding of his blood our sins could be forgiven. At the last supper he took the cup and said, "This is the cup of the new agreement, the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins."
E. Stanley Jones helped me to see how necessary forgiveness is if we are to live healthy lives. To refuse to forgive those who hurt us is to ruin our own health. Many of us are “sick” with various ailments because we have chosen to hate rather than forgive someone.
Brother Stanley told the story of a man who worked for the railroad in India. The man's job took him away from home and his wife for long periods of time. On one of those trips he gave in to sexual temptation and took a mistress. Over time his guilt about this relationship grew in his heart until finally it became unbearable.
One day while he was home he called his wife into the room and began to pour out the sordid story of his sin against her and their marriage vows. Jones said the man’s wife turned as pale as death. She staggered back and leaned against the wall and then great tears trickled down her face. As he continued to confess his sin, she looked as if she had been beaten by a whip.
What the man’s confession did to his wife profoundly affected him. At the time he professed to be a Christian but the pain he caused his wife moved him to genuine faith in Christ. He said, "In that moment, seeing her there in that state, I saw the meaning of the cross. I saw love crucified by a sin, my sin. I could see Christ on the cross crucified by my sin, even as I was crucifying my wife." His wife’s forgiveness helped him become a new man in Christ. Her forgiving love made possible a new relationship and a stronger marriage.
Hatred creates hell for the hater. Forgiveness creates the joy that Jesus said erupts in heaven “over one sinner who repents.” As we travel the journey of life, we are all hurt by others not once but many times. In our pain we have a choice. We can hate or we can forgive.
Forgiveness opens the door to reconciliation, freedom and new life. Esau and Jacob made the right choice. We have an advantage those two men did not have. We have, if we will but listen, the living Christ whispering in our ear, “Your sins are forgiven. I nailed them to the Cross. Now stop hating and forgive so you can live!” That we must do if we are to become truly alive. Otherwise, though we may be breathing, we will remain dead in our sins. And dead is no way to live! + + +